Ethan Wate is sixteen years old, living in the small town of Gatlin, South Carolina where his family has lived for centuries, and having a very tough year. His mom was killed in a car accident a few months ago, and his father, a writer and, like Ethan's mother, a former history professor, has retreated into his study and emerges only to eat and shower. If not for Amma, their housekeeper who has always been a second mother to him, Ethan would be alone.
He doesn't really fit in at school, either, with only his basketball skill giving this bookish, thoughtful kid a social toehold.
And lately, he's been having weird dreams about a beautiful girl he's never met.
Then Lena Duchannes movies into the home of her uncle, the town hermit, Macon Ravenwood. Ravenwood plantation is a bit notorious locally; it's the only one in town that wasn't burned when General Sherman's troops passed through. There are spooky stories about the family. And Macon Ravenwood himself has a big, black dog who looks to be mostly wolf. So Lena is set up to be the high school outcast almost before she sets foot in Stonewall Jackson High.
That's before she gets on the wrong side of Jackson's Mean Girls. It's not a great social move on Ethan's part, either, when he quickly falls for Lena and lets it be known.
But high school social issues are the least of the their problems. Lena is a caster, a member of a race of magic workers. Her Uncle Macon is something even stranger. And Lena's family is cursed, due to the actions of her ancestor Genevieve Duchannes, who loved a mortal--Ethan's great-great-great-great-uncle, Ethan Carter Wate. On her rapidly approaching sixteenth birthday, Lena will be claimed by either the light or the dark--and she is afraid, in fact nearly certain, that it will be the dark.
Meanwhile, strange things are happening around them and to them. Ethan and Lena can hear each other's thoughts. The leading ladies of Gatlin society, never especially open-minded or tolerant, become ever more poisonous, led by the mother of Ethan's best friend, Link. Amma has magic of her own, different from the casters', and she's determined to protect Ethan. Things spin further and further out of control as Ethan and Lena search for answers to the mysteries and a way to stop Lena from "going dark" on her birthday.
This book is creepy and compelling. Lena, Ethan, Link and many of their classmates are in many ways a nightmare version of my worst memories of high school. The nature of the curse and the complexity of what is really happening, to Lena and to Ethan, are fascinating.
Thoroughly satisfying, and recommended.
I received this book free as part of an Overdrive promotion.